As I explain in my book, prescription drug manufacturers in Canada are not allowed to advertise directly to you, the consumer. It’s a bit of a joke, for a few reasons. First, the rules are different in the USA, which means that Canadians are seeing commercials for Viagra, Rogaine, Fosamax and other prescription drugs when they watch streaming US content. Second, the penalty for breaking this law is a ridiculously small fine (click on link for recent CBC report) – something these manufacturers can easily afford. So who cares, right? Why shouldn’t Canadian consumers see ads for prescription drugs?
I’m all for transparency, but I’m also keenly aware of how the marketing game works. Prescription manufacturers have big advertising budgets, and when they decide to flood a market with advertising, they have the clout to do it. Even a cynical over-informed person like me is influenced by huge advertising campaigns. The average person is a sitting duck.
The reality is that prescription drugs are already over-used and abused by our society. The evidence points to a whole generation of men and women who are taking heavy-duty drugs for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, digestive problems, joint pain and “plumbing” problems. Not many doctors mention diet and exercise; it’s easier to prescribe a pill. Yet each prescription drug has to be processed by the body, through the liver or the kidneys. There are often serious side effects, and prescription drugs can also interact with other substances we consume. As an example, my mother’s GP has noticed that her memory is in decline, and he wants to put her on Aricept. Will it help? Probably not. Will it hurt? Well, that’s the million-dollar question. There are serious side effects, the science is inconclusive, and it’s a drug that alters brain function. I’d rather help my mother find other options at this point in time.
“Canada is now the second-largest per capita consumer of prescription opioids (exceeded only by the United States), according to the International Narcotics Control Board (2013). Globally, North America consumes approximately 80% of the world’s opioids.”
Canadian laws are designed to protect the consumer who doesn’t know better, and to allow physicians to have more control over what his or her patient knows. Regardless of whether this law is right or wrong, and in spite of the fact that it’s poorly enforced and barely effective, it’s designed to protect us from overly-influential advertising. We should respect and appreciate that, and support the need for stricter penalties.
In a perfect world, prescription drugs are a miracle. In a world where greed rules and doctors are rewarded for being high-prescribers, they can be a menace. Work with your doctor, and make it your business to know what you’re taking, why you’re taking it, and for how long. Be a smart consumer; it’s your life!